Friday, February 16, 2007
Patron of the Avant-Garde
Pierre Bonnard • Ambroise Vollard • c. 1904-5 • oil on canvas • 74 x 92.5 cm. • Kunsthaus, Zurich, Switzerland
I’ve been through the show Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde (which opens o the public tomorrow) and it is amazing, a must see. It is a great collection of masterworks such as Paul Gauguin’s Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? Are We There Yet? Are We There Yet? Are We There Yet? [sic] from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Also there is the Art Institute’s Old Guitarist by Pablo Picasso. There are countless major works, A Modern Olympia, along with Paul Cézanne’s other motifs of bathers, apples, and mountain views. Gauguin’s Breton and Tahiti periods, Picasso’s birth of cubism, Aritside Maillol’s voluptuous nudes, the Nabis, the Fauves and more. It is really a rare opportunity to see all this in one place.
The premise is also very intriguing. Looking beyond the myths of the artists, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, Renoir, Picasso and on and on, this show examines not only the art dealer who gave a lot of them their first shows, but the stories of the works themselves. A painting has a life after it leaves the artist’s studio, and this show examines that. Works change hands, move around the world and often have colorful stories explaining how they end up where they do.
With masters like these, we have cultural amnesia. We take for granted that these pictures are masterpieces and that they all belong in museums. When in reality, they started out hated and unpopular. In hindsight, we read the story backwards, beginning with the knowledge that these are all great artists; their stories myths that we know will have happy endings. But Vollard and visionaries like him were essential to getting these artists’ work out to the public. Art is not a solitary endeavor, it takes a structure. Artists, collectors, dealers, institutions all play a part in bringing work to the viewer. Ambroise Vollard is one of the dealers that provided a forum for artists to communicate. Vollard was not just someone peddling paintings, he maintained a dialogue with his artists, introduced them to one another, supported them, and encouraged them to try new things. Vollard often took risks, at significant financial losses, especially in terms of his prodigious output of publications, including prints and books. This is what makes the exhibition so interesting. It tells more of the story of Modern Art than just famous painters hanging out together; it establishes the roles so many different characters played in each other’s lives.